In Part I of this exploration, we examined some behavioral patterns that escalate conflicts, including accusations and apologies. In this Part II, we turn our attention to patterns of thinking that lead us to make damaging errors when managing disagreements.
- Sunk cost effect and sunk time effect
- These two cognitive biases, and the "sacrifice trap," lead us to believe that rigidly adhering to our own positions in an ongoing disagreement is sensible [Boulding 1990]. The reasoning goes like this: "If I yield on this point, all my past work and sacrifices will be for naught." People who hold this belief feel that only total victory can justify the resources or time expended so far in establishing or defending their current positions. When this leads to increasing investment in the current position, this pattern is called escalation of commitment.
- Resolving sincere disagreements usually requires all parties to take into account at least some of the interests of the others. That often entails letting go of some of our own past commitments. People ensnared in the sunk cost effect, the sunk time effect, or the sacrifice trap have great difficulty letting go. Moreover, these lines of thinking can lead their adherents along a path of indefinite escalation.
- Confirmation bias
- Confirmation bias (see "Confirmation Bias: Workplace Consequences Part I," Point Lookout for November 23, 2011) is a cognitive bias that causes us to seek information confirming our preconceptions, while we avoid information that might contradict them. It can also cause us to overvalue information supporting our preconceptions, and undervalue information that conflicts with them.
- This bias can obviously lead to conflict escalation when a party to the conflict interprets the statements or acts of other parties in ways that raise questions about their integrity. But more important, when confirmation bias becomes an ingredient of conspiracy theories, the conflict can widen to include other people not involved in the immediate conflict. Confirmation bias thus provides a means for toxic conflict to spread through the organization, contributing to factionalism and feuds.
- Attribution bias
- Attribution bias Resolving sincere disagreements
usually requires all parties to
take into account at least some
of the interests of the othersis a cognitive bias that affects the way we attribute causes for someone's behavior. In conflict, it can lead us to ascribe nefarious motives to people we dislike or distrust, while ascribing only the highest motives to ourselves or to people we like or trust. Even when the disfavored person behaves admirably or fairly, attribution bias can lead us to attribute that behavior to strategic deception, which justifies rejecting any constructive overtures by other parties to the conflict, rendering toxicity of the conflict inevitable, and making the toxicity more durable and intense.
- Once one of the parties to a conflict begins ascribing negative motives to other parties to the conflict, conflict escalation is likely well underway. Delaying intervention until one is certain that things have turned sour is extremely risky.
Are you fed up with tense, explosive meetings? Are you or a colleague the target of a bully? Destructive conflict can ruin organizations. But if we believe that all conflict is destructive, and that we can somehow eliminate conflict, or that conflict is an enemy of productivity, then we're in conflict with Conflict itself. Read 101 Tips for Managing Conflict to learn how to make peace with conflict and make it an organizational asset. Order Now!
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More articles on Conflict Management:
- Hurtful Clichés: II
- Much of our day-to-day conversation consists of harmless clichés: "How goes it?" or
"Nice to meet you." Some other clichés aren't harmless, but they're so common that
we use them without thinking. Here's Part II of a series exploring some of these clichés.
- The True Costs of Indirectness
- Indirect communications are veiled, ambiguous, excessively diplomatic, or conveyed to people other than
the actual target. We often use indirectness to avoid confrontation or to avoid dealing with conflict.
It can be an expensive practice.
- How Workplace Bullies Use OODA: II
- Workplace bullies who succeed in carrying on their activities over a long period of time are intuitive
users of Boyd's OODA model. Here's Part II of an exploration of how bullies use the model.
- Preventing the Hurt of Hurtful Dismissiveness
- When we use the hurtfully dismissive remarks of others to make ourselves feel bad, there are techniques
for recovering relatively quickly. But we can also learn to respond to these remarks altogether differently.
When we do that, recovery is unnecessary.
- Unresponsive Suppliers: III
- When suppliers have a customer orientation, we can usually depend on them. But government suppliers
are a special case.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming July 8: Multi-Expert Consensus
- Some working groups consist of experts from many fields. When they must reach a decision by consensus, members have several options. Defining those options in advance can help the group reach a decision with all its relationships intact. Available here and by RSS on July 8.
- And on July 15: Disjoint Concept Vocabularies
- In disputes or in problem solving sessions, when we can't seem to come to agreement, we often attribute the difficulty to miscommunication, histories of disagreements, hidden agendas, or "personality clashes." Sometimes the cause is much simpler. Sometimes the concept vocabularies of the parties don't overlap. Available here and by RSS on July 15.
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